A large dose of serendipity has underpinned entrepreneur Mark Rock's CV to date. His early career included stints as a sound recordist, marketing man and graphic designer. Things got serious when, in 1996, he set up Static2358, a design and tech company serving the fledging digital TV industry. With funding from Sky, Static developed the interactive TV game channel Playjam in 1999. It was later sold to OpenTV.
With his earnout completed and creative freedom restored, Rock set up Best Before TV and, in March 2009, Audioboo.
In Audioboo (the name derives from the soundproof audio booths used for recording), Rock is aiming to create an audio version of Twitter. Users from journalists to media owners and performers simply record high-quality audio for uploading to the Audioboo site and linking to social networks. Read on to find what this AOL Pioneer thinks about music, piracy, Stephen Fry and more.
Q: What was the trigger for setting up Audioboo?
The idea was seeded when my mother died in 2008 and I suddenly realised a whole lifetime of memories had gone with her. In 2009, when Channel 4 asked us to help out on new mobile strategies for radio, we came up with the initial idea for a mobile audio recording platform that had data - location, photo, title etc - at its core. The whole operation is run by six of us.
Q: How much have you raised to back the company?
We launched in March 2009 and ran the platform as a real boot-strapping effort for the first 12 months. We had limited project investment from Channel 4's digital fund - 4IP - but knew that we'd need some proper cash to take Audioboo to the next level. It took some time to get seed funding, potentially since spokenword audio wasn't seen as a sexy area. We closed an initial round in June 2010 of circa £750,000 and are now looking at a further round at £2.5 million, mainly to get us more established in the US and Asia.
Q: What did Audioboo users make of James Naughtie's mix-up with Jeremy, er, Hunt?
There is an honourable TV tradition of making shows out of bloopers. When a user posted Naughtie's mispronunciation of the Culture Secretary's name, he got 10k hits within a few hours. This obviously scared the user, as he deleted his account. I then posted the clip up myself and it got 80k listens within 36 hours. It was just something that you couldn't find on iPlayer or YouTube.
Q: Do services like Audioboo encourage piracy of content?
Not at the moment. Most content is original. The few people that have seen it as a way to send music to their friends, we've been pretty strict with. I think what's interesting is the original music content that's being created - people recording songs live from their living rooms. A generation has grown up - with my 16-year-old son included - who've had to pirate content because the digital means were not in place to them to buy it legally. They don't steal from shops, they help old ladies across the road. They have just been let down by the inability of the TV and music industries to offer them enough digital choices.
Q: Who do you feel are the major winners and losers of the digital movement in music?
Winners? Apple, via iTunes, and, surprisingly enough, the independents, who now have the internet to sell their content direct to the people who want it. Losers - the labels. They're getting smarter but they missed out on a big opportunity.
Q: How well are new digital services being integrated into campaigns to give users a more immersive experience with advertising?
Advertising, it seems to me, is still in shock from the loss of its traditional markets when nothing was measured in a rigid fashion. This is where the mobile internet is going to be transformational. Given a user's location, their need for information based on where they are and what they need, then that will begin to create new ad models that create significant value going forward.
Q: Everyone's jumping on online video as a form of advertising. Do you think audio can offer as powerful an experience?
Audio is an amazing mobile experience, which video still isn't. If we can take the best of radio, podcasts and add in a contextual audio messaging service, then I think we're looking at a pretty powerful medium going forward.
Q: Downloading is great for a quick-fix of new tracks, but how are people discovering new bands/artists?
Audioboo is all about context. That may be the location the audio was recorded at or the photo attached. For music, I like to think of it in terms of a fan club model - with the platform being used to augment the traditionally produced musical audio with extras that add to the experience of listening to it (first lyrics, a few early notes). It's more about the personalisation of music and your relationship to the artist producing it. That will lead to discovery.
Name: Mark Rock
Works: A lot. Probably too much
Lives: With four children, a Lurcher and a lovely wife when she's not shouting. We don't get out much ...
Favourite gadget: Electrical screwdriver. Useful in so many ways
Favourite digital journey: Guardian iPhone app on the train
Hero of the digital world: Marconi (shit, he's not digital, is he?)
Favourite boo to date: Stephen Fry in an acoustic chamber. Sounds like a little boy let loose in a sweetshop - http://audioboo.fm/boos/54262-npl-boo
Celebrity boo fans: Stephen Fry, Tony Blackburn, British Army, Richard Bacon, Chris Moyles
Followed by: 2100
Follow the AOL Pioneers and look out for their live Q&As at twitter.com/CampaignPioneer. Mark Rock's Q&A will take place on 21 January at 1pm.
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